ISLE Program

2008 Spring Session II Activities

This spring group of students have really been getting involved at the University of Peradeniya. Sam has started a tri-weekly English tutoring class there and a few of the ISLE students have been involved in that. Aliya has been hosting a Bengali conversation hour with some Buddhist monks as well as taking Sanskrit classes with Phil, the program assistant. Phil has also been participating with all of the guys in various afternoon sporting activities on a daily basis including cricket and basket ball.

Almost all of the students seem to be spending much of their free time at the university as well as class time. In addition to scheduled field trips for classes each of the students has made his/her way out to explore the ancient Kandyan temples of Lankatilaka, Embekke, and Gadaladeniya independently. There have also been a couple of nice trips to the Singithi orphanage for afternoons of playtime with the children there.

The weekend of March 14 the whole group made the long trip from Kandy to Kataragama to see the sights and explore some of the material they had been discussing in their Myth and Ritual class. Joining the students were Professor Holt, the program director, Professor Udaya Meddegama, the course instructor, and Professor William Lafluer. Along the way they stopped at the Dowa Temple near Ella and then at the Buduruwegala rock-carved relief near Wellawaya.

Stone carving

Adam puts the massive Buduruwegala sculptures into perspective

Buduruwegala is significant because it is the site of some of the most impressive Mahayana Buddhist influenced art in Sri Lanka (a "Theravada Buddhist country") flanking a giant Buddha image are three bodhisattva figures.

students on rocks 

Professor Udaya Meddegama, Prof. Holt, and students explore the Buduruwegala rock-carved relief en route to Kataragama

They, then proceeded to Kataragama where they attended the evening pooja (offering) at the Maha Kataragama Devalaya (great shrine of God Kataragama). God Kataragama is one of the four national guardian deities for Sinhala Buddhists and is also revered by Hindus, albeit as Murugan (who is the Tamil national deity). The site of the Kataragama shrine is really paradigmatic of Sri Lankan religious culture as a whole--that is, it is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. And all of them occupy a unique space at the site.

Students at site 

Sam shortly after smashing a flaming coconut at the Maha Kataragama Devalaya (shrine). The ritual act of smashing of coconuts is done to mark a devotee's vow while propitiating the God

students at reception

Aliya and Prof. Holt share in a platter of fruit offered to god Kataragama after the maha poojawa (great offering).

The following day the group climbed Vedahitikanda (God Kataragama's former place of residence) and later made an afternoon jaunt to Kirinda to visit the Buddhist temple there and go swimming.

 Group swimming

The group takes a short break at a Ganesh shrine while hiking up Vedahitikanda

students on stairs 

Yoni and Chris after a hot and humid hike up Vedahitikanda.


Sea bath at Kirinda!

Afterwards, Professor Holt took some of the students to his favorite beach spot in Yala National Park for spectacular views. This area is far removed from any kind of tourist development, the few hotels that used to exist in this area were destroyed in 2004 by the tsunami.

on rocks 

Chris, Yoni, and Prof. Holt take in the view from the former site of the Yala Beach Hotel in Yala National Park.


Adam and Prof. Holt watch storm clouds roll in over Yala National Park.

On the last day the group took the long way back to Kandy, snaking up along the southwest coast through the colonial fort city of Galle. The group had lunch in Galle where they were able to spend a few hours exploring the ramparts of the fort.

students on rocks 

Along the ramparts of the Galle fort.

Also during Session II the students had the opportunity to visit a local records office. Professor Tudor Silva (with the help of Ms. Malini Paramaguru a guest lecturer from the Political Science department) took the students in his Ethnicity course to Nuwara Eliya to explore the difficulties involved in securing a national identity card. The problem is particularly pronounced for Tamils that populate the tea estates that make up much of Nuwara Eliya's landscape. Without a national I.D. card, leaving the plantation for school, other work, shopping and other necessary things is quite difficult and particularly risky given the suspicion they often face from the police as having links with Tigers in the north.

This was really a great field trip and was enjoyed thoroughly by everyone. Students were able to speak with pretty much everyone involved in the process. This included the government officials who issue the I.D. cards, plantation residents, plantation managers who, at times, seem less than enthusiastic to help workers with this kind of problem. It was a well-organized visit that gave the students an opportunity to explore (in a field-research based context) a problem that is alive today.

Ms. Malini Paramaguru, a Peradeniya student, Sam, and Asteria are surrounded by bureaucratic clutter in the room of birth, death, and marriage certificates at the Nuwara Eliya District Secretariat.

records room 

Sam, Asteria, and Prof. Tudor Silva in the "room of records."


Ms. Paramaguru and Sam collect data on the process of obtaining a copy of one's birth certificate, this is a necessary step in applying for a national identity card.


Asteria and Ms. Paramaguru interview a group of plantation youths about the difficulties involved in obtaining a national identity card on tea plantations.


Field work in progress at the Park Estate just outside of Nuwara Eliya.

The next weekend everyone was treated to an evening of art, literature, and music at Professor Ashley Halpe's house. Although Professor Halpe is not teaching this spring, he was kind enough to invite the group over to his house to explore his impressive collection of Sri Lankan art and engage with two Sri Lankan literary giants: author Carl Muller (he is very famous in Sri Lanka) and poet Kamala Wijayaratna.

Living room

Professor Halpe walks students around his extensive collection of Sri Lankan art during a visit to his house.

Bridget Halpe also gave a short lecture and listening session on traditional and contemporary forms of Sri Lankan music.

Living room

Bridget Halpe guides ISLE students Sam, Chris, and Asteria through a session of traditional and contemporary Sri Lankan music.

The evening concluded with a rousing talk from Mr. Muller about his experiences as a writer in Sri Lanka as well as short reading of one of his favorite short stories.

Prof Holt

Prof. Holt, Kamala Wijayaratna, Carl Muller, and Adam.

inside home

Carl Muller offers an impromptu lesson on the art of writing.

The Dance and Drumming performance wraps up Session II. This year each student participated in either dance or drumming, with six of the seven students doing both. All four ISLE guys performed a dance together, Aliya and Asteria did two dances together and Asteria did the solo "cobra dance". This year everyone participated in the drumming.

ISLE guys

The ISLE guys (Sam, Yoni, Chris, and Adam) perform a traditional Kandyan dance for a crowd of host-families and well-wishers. Dance and drumming instructors Peter Surasena and Sirisoma look on.

Asteria has really taken to Kandyan dancing and her performance of the solo "cobra dance" was very special for everyone who attended. This is a real achievement for someone who has only been doing Kandyan dance for a month.

solo dance

Asteria performs the solo "cobra dance" as Sirisoma and Surasena provide drum accompaniment.

duet dance

Asteria and Aliya in the midst of the "pot dance."

In addition, Surasena  had a female student of his do a lovely exhibition  of a kandyan "vannam" dance as well as group of his male students perform the traditional "ves" dance. Sirisoma, his drumming partner, also did a little drum-off to start the evening.

ISLE guys dancing

Yoni and Chris take center stage during the drumming portion of the performance.

dancers bow

Sirisoma and his drumming partner at the conclusion of an evening of Kandyan culture.

The performance itself was great and it was very well-attended by host-families and neighbors. It is wonderful to have the families all together at the ISLE Center for this special event.  


The drum perahera (procession) led by Sam, Aliya, and Yoni snakes around the ISLE Center.

drum group

The ISLE dancers and drummers along with a local student of Peter Surasena pose with their guru.

student with family

Sam poses with his host amma (mother) and mallila (younger brothers) after a fine performance.

The students will be working on their Independent Study projects for the next several weeks. These are project proposals that they have presented to their Director for approval and they will be presenting to the group at the end of the session.